Feb 09, 2022

How to support residents hiding their sexuality for fear of rejection

Gay couple aged care residents

So, after many years of hiding his sexuality and then becoming openly gay with his partner Tony* of 25 years in his hometown, he resorted to hiding his identity for fear of rejection, humiliation and discrimination amongst his new surroundings. 

I would often talk about Tony to Raymond, what he did for a living, what type of person he was and enjoy sharing memories and looking at precious photographs together. 

The more and more Raymond began to trust me the more he would happily talk about his life as a young man growing up in the 1960s. 

He had moved from the country to Sydney where life was a little more tolerable. Even so, meeting other men proved very dangerous and was all done in secret. 

Raymond never made his parents aware of his sexuality, but as he once said, “Mothers always know”, and said that she was at least understanding. 

Raymond would reminisce about his encounters with other men and his sense of humour and excitement of the chase. 

He didn’t meet Tony until the Spring of 1999 and he said it was love at first sight, as they shared so many similar interests from their passion for travel and photography. 

Tony was a freelance photographer in Sydney and they developed an instant friendship and moved in together as ‘roommates’ in a two-bedroom apartment in Kings Cross. 

They became inseparable until Tony’s untimely death from a stroke the previous year.

They would cook together, shop together, Tony would tend to the garden whilst Raymond would do household chores. 

He once jokingly said I know it’s very stereotypical but that’s how we organised the household all those years. 

In 2017 when the law changed, Raymond and Tony were married in a simple ceremony attended by very close friends. 

As Raymond reiterated, “Love is Love”, I just chose to love another man, not a woman.

LGBT+ people may not feel safe enough to “come out” again and again to the staff in residential care for fear of persecution, especially in the isolation of a care home setting. 

Then there is the additional factor that they could face prejudice and abuse from fellow residents.

Raymond and Tony’s community in the outside world was of their choosing, not so in residential care, where people from all walks of life reside with varying levels of tolerance and acceptance. 

So, the thoughts and fears of people from the LGBT+ community are daunting and sometimes terrifying as to what type of persecution they could face when left alone in a residential care facility.

I recall a special meeting with aged care management about the concerns Raymond had raised with me, and this led to a management instruction to staff that they were to treat him and his partner equally as they would any other resident. 

Allowing Raymond to be as open about his sexuality as he chose to be. I spent some time reassuring him about who he felt he could trust amongst the residents, and that staff would be treating him with the same respect and dignity as any other resident. 

I told him if he had any issues or concerns from staff or residents to speak with me and not keep it to himself.

This sort of issue never concerns heterosexual people and it’s just a shame that this level of fear remains in the hearts and minds of gay people in later life.

Homosexuality was deemed as illegal in Australia until the late 20th century, which could result in a criminal conviction or prison and a police record that would follow them throughout their lives. 

The last state to decriminalise homosexuality was Tasmania in May 1997. 

For a very long time, homosexuality was seen as a mental illness and a lifestyle choice, many people from this generation were subjected to pointless so-called ‘cure’ treatments such as aversion shock therapy and or medications – none of which would ultimately change the person’s sexual orientation. 

The issue of acceptance goes even deeper for a person who identifies as trans, or even a person who chooses to crossdress.

Raymond was only too aware that in the early part of his life he lived in fear of persecution and that those days could return when he moved into care.

Acceptance is an understanding that the person has the right to be respected and be treated with dignity for the way they are – too few people consider the feelings and emotions of someone who is being discriminated against. 

Society has come a long way in terms of “acceptance” of people from the LGBT+ community, but it still has a lot further to go. 

Until people realise that not everyone was born the same, this form of prejudice will continue. I just hope that our next generation entering residential aged care are not subjected to incrimination and victimisation, and that people are allowed to live their twilight years in peace and harmony.

*All names are fictitious to protect the privacy of those mentioned.

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